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Ontology Metadata in NCBO BioPortal: Requirements and Solutions. Natasha Noy Stanford University. NCBO BioPortal.

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Ontology metadata in ncbo bioportal requirements and solutions
Ontology Metadata inNCBO BioPortal:Requirements and Solutions

  • Natasha Noy

  • Stanford University

Ncbo bioportal
NCBO BioPortal

  • The National Center for Biomedical Ontology (http://bioontology.org) is developing BioPortal, an open-source repository of ontologies, terminologies, and thesauri of importance in biomedicine.  

  • An early version of BioPortal is accessible at http://bioportal.bioontology.org.  An alpha version of the next release is at http://alpha.bioontology.org/

  • Users can access the BioPortal content interactively via Web browsers or programmatically via Web services.

Bioportal is an ontology repository
BioPortal Is An Ontology Repository

  • Open repository of ontologies in biomedicine

  • The original set of ontologies is from the Open Biomedical Ontologies repository (OBO)

  • New ontologies are being added

  • Each ontology is described by a set of metadata

Major function ontology assessment

Which ontology from the repository

is appropriate for my task?

Major Function: Ontology Assessment

  • Sources of information for the answer:

    • Ontology metadata

      • usually provided by authors

    • Computable metrics

      • can be provided by the tools in the library

    • Community-based evaluation

      • provided by other users of the ontologies

Requirements for ontology metadata in bioportal
Requirements For Ontology Metadata in BioPortal

  • Flexible, extensible, and easy-to-change solution

    • We don’t necessarily have all the answers right now; not many ontology repositories exist.

  • Support for ontology versioning

    • Any new version of an ontology in the repository can invalidate the value of any metadata field.

  • Reuse of metadata across different repositories

    • If we share the same metadata schema, we can exchange ontology profiles more easily (think: FOAF for ontologies).

  • Query access for standard tools and languages

    • Use a standard mechanism rather than a proprietary solution.

Omv in bioportal
OMV in BioPortal

  • We are adopting OMV as the metadata schema for ontologies

  • We are working actively with the OMV Consortium on the representation

  • Key features of OMV from the BioPortal’s point of view:

    • support for ontology versioning

    • fields for “extrinsic” information about an ontology (references, usage reports, etc.)

    • clear separation into core and extensions

Maintaining metadata through ontology versioning
Maintaining Metadata throughOntology Versioning

Potentially, any part of the description can change:

author, language, domain, scope, coverage, level of support, license, ...

Omv and bioportal solution
OMV (and BioPortal) Solution

Each metadata instance describes a specific version

Pragmatic considerations
Pragmatic Considerations

  • Most author-supplied metadata remains unchanged from version to version

    • copy the metadata by default, allowing users to change any part of it

  • Users of the ontology (not its authors) may not come back to update the metadata they provided (reviews, projects, etc.)

    • keep reference to the specific version for which the metadata was created

    • present all the user-supplied metadata from previous versions

    • make it clear that, for example, a review was for a previous version

Key metadata fields
Key Metadata Fields

  • Provenance: author, institution, license...

  • Policy for maintenance and distribution

  • Domain and scope

  • Key classes

  • References

    • describing the ontology itself

    • describing the use of the ontology

  • Projects using the ontology


Evaluation Extension

Who should provide the metadata
Who Should Provide the Metadata?

  • The only people who know the answer to these question are

    • (maybe) ontology authors

    • other users of the ontology

  • Allow users to provide metadata for ontologies

    • reviews

    • ratings

    • usage reports

Which ontology from the repository

is appropriate for my task?

Metadata and where it comes from
Metadata And Where It Comes From


by Authors


By Users



Maintenance policy




Usage reports



Logical consistency

Quality of documentation

Level of maturity


Conflicting sources of metadata
Conflicting Sources of Metadata

  • Authors and users can contradict one another

    • Quality of documentation?

    • References (e.g., positive and negative analyses of the ontology)

    • ...

  • Metadata schema must enable diversity of views on some metadata values

Lessons still being learned
Lessons (Still Being) Learned

  • We must remember what the ontology metadata is for

    • helping users find the “right” ontologies

  • Flexibility of metadata schema is key

  • Maintenance across ontology versions is essential

  • Metadata must support plurality of views and provide context for the specific values